Meatballs and pasta

This is the recipe daughter number 1 made in the Kids Kitchen at the Abergavenny Food Festival last year.

It doesn’t take long to make a batch of meatballs, and if you freeze some of them, they defrost quickly for midweek meals.

I have sometimes bought organic meatballs, but it’s so much cheaper to make your own. And I have noticed that some of the non-organic meatballs have water added as well as salt and additives – so not only are you paying more for someone else to make your meatballs but you’re also paying for water (and a slightly lower protein content).

My youngest is about 8 months in this photo. You can just about see that I made the meatballs into longer sausage shapes for her to hold and eat. Younger babies haven’t yet learnt to hold things using pincer grasp so if you are going to serve as a finger food you need to make them long enough for them to grasp and have enough meat on the end to eat too. I tried this a couple of times but found a lot of the meat got wasted/not eaten so it was easier to put in with the pasta and sauce. I do usually give some of the pasta as finger food as she enjoys eating it this way, and the 7 year old does too now.

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Sometimes if I am using a batch of meatballs from the freezer I Β just chop them up with the pasta for baby, for spoon-feeding along with some veggie’s as a finger food. If you are pureeing rather than chopping food (for younger babies) and you don’t have an older child you might just like to stick with spaghetti bolognese rather than going to the bother of making meatballs.

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You will need…

…for the meatballs
500g organic (ideally lean) beef or lamb mince
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh parsley or basil (but if you don’t have any fresh herbs use a tablespoon of dried mixed herbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

… how to make the meatballs
Mix all the ingredients together (except the olive oil which is for frying) and shape into small balls, the size of cherry tomatoes. The recipe from Kid’s Kitchen gives details of how to steam cook the meatballs, which is healthier. But I have to admit to shallow frying in a the olive oil. turning regularly to brown all over (don’t over-brown them though).

Use what you need and freeze the rest between parchment/grease proof paper in airtight containers. They’ll keep in the fridge for a couple of days and in the freezer for a couple of months.

…for the tomato sauce
tablespoon of olive oil
1 garlic clove finely chopped
handful of fresh basil, finely chopped (or 1 tablespoon of dried mixed herbs if that’s all you have in)
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
tablespoon of tomato puree

Heat the olive oil, add the garlic clove and before it starts turning brown add the dried herbs (if using) and chopped and pureed tomatoes, stir and simmer for 10 minutes, add the meatballs 5 minutes before serving along with the fresh herbs (if using). Serve with pasta and a little fresh parmesan.

In the Summer I sometimes make the tomato sauce with garlic, onion and red pepper, adding the tomatoes after they have softened.

Portion sizes

These portion sizes are a guide to help you know roughly how much to give. I don’t weigh out portion sizes for every meal. But by weighing portion sizes out a few times I’ve learnt to estimate portion sizes by sight:

7-9 months: 30g meatballs to 70g tomato sauce and 20g vegetables as finger food
10-12 months: 40g meatballs to 80g tomato sauce and 30g vegetables as finger food
1-4 years: 50g meatballs to 100g tomato sauce and 1 x 40g portions of vegetables

Nutrition bits

You can use either lamb or beef mince. Opt for British, ideally organic. Whilst lamb and beef is usually grassfed, buying organic ensures that the animal is grassfed as it’s integral to the legal organic standards.

Meat from grassfed has higher levels of omega 3’s. Compared to grain fed animals, the saturated fat from grass fed animals have higher levels of the saturated fat, stearic acid, which does not increase cholesterol levels and conversely has lower levels of the two saturated fats that cause increased cholesterol (myristic and palmitic). Grassfed meat also has been found to have higher levels of anitoxidants, Vitamin’s A and E and glutathione and superoxide dismutase. Both these meats are also very good sources of protein, iron and zinc.

Red meat does get a bad press, but it can make a valuable contribution to a balanced healthy diet – especially for younger children – who are at higher risk of iron and zinc deficiency. It’s also worth remembering that most studies of beef consumption in the US, will be based on what most people eat which is intensively reared cattle on feedlots where the cattle eat grain and in particular maize, which causes all sorts of health problems for the animals and also means the meat has a less healthy profile compared to grassfed.

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